*While the title alone may denote some kind of oxymoron (Miss Universe Japan?) by now many of you have heard the news that a biracial woman was chosen as such. Ariana Miyamoto, born from a Japanese mother and African American father, is that woman and since the crown was bestowed upon her, the 20-year-old model has had to defend the stance that she is “not Japanese enough” from those criticizing her as the selection.
Though Miyamoto’s “look” differs from the traditional Japanese woman, she is a citizen of Japan and a native of Sasebo in Nagasaki prefecture. She does speak the language as flawlessly as a native – with no hint of being otherwise, and she has studied an advanced mastery of the art of Japanese calligraphy, according to RockeNewst24, a Tokyo-based news blog.
Yet, the haters have reared their ugly heads. And lit up social media to let the pageantry know that the selection doesn’t sit well, with them.
A blog called Kotaku noted that “many of the highest-rated comments” about Miyamoto on the Japanese site GirlsChannel “said that they wanted a more ‘Japanese’ contestant to represent Japan — with the explicit implication that half-Japanese people do not reflect the country.
“However, not everyone thinks that way. This is extremely important to point out. There were comments supporting her selection, with people saying that the only thing that matters is whether or not she’s a citizen and loves this country or whether or not she was born and raised in Japan. Others said criticizing the selection because she wasn’t ‘Japanese’ enough was ‘pathetic’ and outdated thinking.”
One of the traditions of being in a pageant is cultivating poise and grace during training. And this has not been lost on Miyamoto; who has employed these characteristics as she preemptively, and politely, defended herself during her first meeting with the Japanese media after she was crowned Miss Universe Japan last week. The biracial beauty queen told them that she may not “look Japanese” on the outside, but on the inside, her soul is replete with Japaneseness, according to Kotaku.
In Japan, Miyamoto is known as hafu (or haafu) — a word that refers to multiracial or multi-ethnic half-Japanese people. And there is a pervasive feeling in Japan, which is considered one of the most homogeneous places on Earth, that mixed-race people are not fully Japanese, according to NBC News.
And it was those feelings that seemed to permeate social media after Miyamoto was selected as Miss Universe Japan.
— いぶ@フードファイター (@sabu_love_a)
Translation: “Is it ok to choose a haafu to represent Japan? Sometimes the criteria which they use to select Miss Universe is a bit of a mystery”
— 奥╰( ºั³ºั )╯歯 (@oku_6_doku)
Translation: “The contradiction that is having a haafu Miss Universe Japan …”
And these last two, more pointed posts read,
— ぐらびー (@2ygravity)
Translation: “Even though she’s Miss Universe Japan, her face is foreign no matter how you look at it!”
— もへじ (@nao71860624) March 12, 2015
Translation: “Beauty contest. Miss Universe Japan is….wha? What kind of person? She’s ….not…..Japanese…right?”
While every culture likes to point out their unique qualities, Theodore Bestor, a professor of anthropology and Japanese studies at Harvard University says homogeneity is one the Japanese strongly identify with.
“One of the ways in which Japanese think of their own society as ‘unique’ is to emphasize the homogeneity of Japanese society, and indeed by lots of comparisons, Japan is certainly a much more homogeneous society than say the United States,” Bestor told Columbia University‘s Asian Topics.
“And it’s often said by Japanese that they are ethnically homogeneous, that there are no real foreign populations in Japan.”
But in a film by Megumi Nishikura Miyamoto’s selection as the first-ever biracial Miss Universe Japan comes at a time when Japanese attitudes about race are beginning to change. “Hafu: The Mixed-Race Experience in Japan,” explores the lives of multiracial Japanese citizens and points out that 20,000 half-Japanese people, including both multiethnic and multiracial people, are born in Japan each year, according to NBC.
This seems to work fine for the mixed-race people who frequent magazines and television, where their looks are celebrated for being novel and attractive, the film notes. Some Japanese women, hoping to replicate the Western beauty standards that are reflected in Japanese pop culture, even seek out foreign men to have children with, according to RocketNews24.
Nishikura told NBC that Miyamoto’s selection as Miss Universe Japan “is a huge step forward in expanding the definition of what it means to be Japanese. The controversy that has erupted over her selection is a great opportunity for us Japanese to examine how far we have come from our self-perpetuated myth of homogeneity while at the same time it shows us how much further we have to go.”
Read more of this story at Washington Post.